Parties switch attention to new elections

Compromise reached over new caretaker premier following tense meeting of party leaders

Greece unofficially began its new election period, ahead of polls on June 17, as party leaders clashed over who would be appointed caretaker prime minister before they finally agreed to follow the constitution and opt for Council of State president Panayiotis Pikrammenos to take over the role.

Pikrammenos was sworn in on Wednesday night and is expected to name a cabinet on Thursday that will tide the country over until new elections are held.

The head of Greece?s highest administrative court was chosen after the option of keeping on his predecessor, Lucas Papademos, in the role was ruled out. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras and PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos had been in favor of Papademos continuing but met with opposition from the head of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), Alexis Tsipras.

The leftist leader proposed that PASOK veteran and former Economy Minister Gerasimos Arsenis should be appointed caretaker prime minister. Tsipras?s choice infuriated Venizelos, who said that it was contradictory for SYRIZA to refuse a role in a unity government and to then put forward its own proposal for who should be caretaker prime minister.

Tsipras?s suggestion is seen as having two purposes: to appeal to traditional but disgruntled PASOK voters, as SYRIZA seeks to boost its support ahead of the new elections, and to form an alliance with the small party Social Pact, which was co-founded by Arsenis?s wife and former Labor Minister Louka Katseli.

Minutes from Tuesday?s meetings between the party leaders revealed that Tsipras insisted on his refusal to join the government because he wanted to be part of an administration that would repudiate the terms of the bailout. ?We asked for the Greek people to vote so we could form a government that would cancel this program,? he said.

Tsipras added that the proposal to enter a government with PASOK, ND and the Democratic Left suggested SYRIZA would have to accept that some of the austerity measures would still be applied pending a renegotiation with the EU and IMF. Tsipras said he wanted a commitment that all such measures would be ?frozen.?

The clash over Arsenis was settled when Tsipras said he would accept Papademos as premier. However, Communist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga and Independent Greeks chief Panos Kammenos objected and it was decided that, as decreed by the Greek Constitution, the eldest of Greece?s senior judges would be given the position.

Following the meeting, the parties immediately began devising their election campaigns. Samaras gave an indication of what voters can expect from ND with a brief statement. ?The Greek people have two paths ahead of them: One is to change everything in Greece, within a Europe that is also changing. The other is to live the terror of exiting the euro, the terror of isolation, out of Europe, and the collapse of everything we have made until today,? he said.

The conservatives are preparing to focus their efforts on discrediting SYRIZA and the Independent Greeks over their anti-bailout stances. In the effort to rally center-right forces, it appears that ND is close to an agreement with former member Dora Bakoyannis, who is currently the head of the liberal party Democratic Alliance. The possibility, however, of the head of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), Giorgos Karatzaferis, returning to ND took a knock as he said he wants to ?rebuild? his party.

The election campaign looks set to revolve around the issue of Greece?s membership of the eurozone, with PASOK and New Democracy arguing that SYRIZA?s position of absolute rejection of the EU-IMF memorandum would lead to Greece being forced out of the eurozone.

Venizelos warned voters against ?populism, demagoguery, irresponsibility and the trade in false hopes.?